AS the Solomon Islands draws nearer to celebrating its 40th year of independence it remains a developing nation and is largely reliant on foreign aid to help its struggling economy and to balance the books.
Taiwan assists the Solomon Islands with money, annually, in the form of Constitutional Development Funds (CDF) and what is described as a “Discretional Fund.”
Internationally, Taiwan’s money to the Solomon Islands is often viewed with disdain and described as chequebook diplomacy in order to support Taiwan’s foreign policy which, allegedly, uses economic aid and investment between countries to curry diplomatic favour.
Editorial commentary in the Solomon Star newspaper in the past few days has highlighted the growing problem of unemployment, job scarcity and the lack of rural development in the Solomon Islands, linking much of the problems to the alleged failure of the CDF in the hands of the nation’s leaders.
It is not new criticism and I touched on the issue last October when I wrote this piece in a letter to the local media.
“Transparency Solomon Islands (TSI) has also claimed that there had been little to show for the money given annually to local MPs by Taiwan for Constituency development projects, a sentiment I recall a former Taiwanese Ambassador saying on his final departure from the Solomon Islands.
“Taiwan, a country with democratic principles and with a sound anti-corruption policy, cannot be immune from such stories that give rise to possible corruption in the Solomon Islands and the fact that there those who often accuse the ROC of playing the game of cheque book diplomacy in support of Solomon’s recognition.
“Taiwan has always denied such accusations insisting the assistance it offers is legitimate and in accordance with sharing, “economic prosperity and providing practical help to countries in the Pacific with renewable energy, vocational training, medical assistance and protecting the region’s tuna stocks.”
“Will the loss of Panama have had an effect on Taiwan’s ongoing relationships with its remaining diplomatic partners and will the Solomon Islands see a change in the way Taiwan gives financial assistance?
“The promise of a factory for Honiara (next year) to manufacture solar panels to me, at least, seems to have signalled a shift to direct aid that will generate local employment, boost the economy and have tangible outcomes to dispel some of the allegations that have long persisted over the use, and often the alleged miss-use of Constituency Development Funds.
“A next step could be to encourage Taiwan’s direct involvement with investment and technology transfers to kick-start the still awaiting free economic zones ideas heralded by the SIG some 18 months ago.
“By supporting tangible outcomes to its investments in the Solomon Islands, the ROC could be viewed as a reliable partner on the wider global stage to develop deeper informal relations that could provide broader avenues for Taiwan to assert itself.”
As I view the continued inferences to the alleged misuse of the CDF and see no improvement in real employment gains year on year in the Solomons, I compare Australia’s approach to aid in Thailand.
Here Australia’s Direct Aid Program (DAP is a flexible, small grants scheme for development activities, managed by the Australian Embassy in Bangkok.
The program funds projects that provide direct benefits to those most in need in the local community, including vulnerable or disadvantaged groups.
DAP projects are aimed primarily at achieving practical and tangible outcomes, such as on poverty alleviation, community health; schools/education; small-scale infrastructure; rural development; gender equality; environmental benefits including managing or adapting to climate change and ad hoc humanitarian relief.
Taiwan has been a good friend of the Solomon Islands but perhaps should think more, like Australia, in supporting tangible outcomes by way of investment that will result in employment and especially in the rural areas.
The promised solar panel manufacturing plant for Honiara could herald such a way forward.